The Journey through Primary School
The Journey’s Beginning
The meeting of the children with their teacher marks the beginning of a wonderful journey of discovery through primary school. Ideally, the class teacher will remain with them each year until the children enter secondary school. The pupil-teacher-parent link is a crucial one, fostered through home visits and regular parent-teacher meetings that have cultural, social, and educational content.
Central to the curriculum content and the way in which it is brought to the class are two principles:
- guiding the children according to stages of their development; and
- attention to teaching rhythms.
The order and rhythm of the school day, for example, brings the main theme content in the first two hours of the morning, the Main Lesson. Ideally, the timetable is set up so that in the middle of the day, lessons take place that are often given by Specialist Teachers, e.g. languages, Eurythmy, and music, or practice lessons in maths and reading/writing. In the afternoon, the emphasis is on games, art (drawing/painting) and handwork, and the other practical subjects such as gardening (Class 3 onwards) and cooking (Classes 5,6,7).
A larger rhythm relates to the development of the main themes. These are studied in Main Lesson blocks of three to four weeks, and give plenty of opportunity to enter deeply into the themes, to recollect on the previous day’s experiences, and to anticipate the new developments each day. Main Lessons should involve “the head, the heart, and the hands” in listening, imaginative and artistic work, written work, and movement. Children’s Main Lesson books record these theme journeys, and much care and enthusiasm is devoted to their presentation. Children can feel that the work they present really matters and is valued.
Then there is the rhythm of the year: the calendar of the seasonal changes, the watching of nature’s changing garments–in both the plant and the animal worlds, the rhythms of daylight and darkness, and weather. The school currently celebrates the following festivals: Easter, Matariki, St. John, Michaelmas, Advent, and Christmas. The way in which they are celebrated is such that they can be seen for their cosmopolitan and universally human character. Festivals are full of anticipation and preparations for the children and the teachers, e.g. the making of St. John’s Day candle lanterns or building a fire for Matariki; and the choosing of appropriate stories, poems, and plays.
In Waldorf Schools, teaching of reading is different, and it is important to understand why.
Formal teaching of reading starts when children have reached a certain stage of physical development. Rudolf Steiner placed great emphasis on the view that one should not prematurely tax forces for formal intellectual learning while the child is undergoing important development of the physical body. The time of the “arrival of the second teeth” is one of the milestones that a teacher observes in determining when a child is ready for a different way of learning. This milestone usually occurs around the age of seven, the beginning of the Waldorf primary school years.
Steiner suggested to teachers that they could reflect on how the changes children show in the ways they experience and think about the world as they develop, mirrors the development of human consciousness throughout history. He pointed out how pictures were the first written communications and how it is through imaginative pictures that the world is represented in humanity’s oral traditions. This view underlies the ways in which reading and writing are learned.
Alphabet letters are introduced in Class 1 through story imaginations and in their different moods. The letters are not merely abstract symbols. They are seen in their living qualities. Children learn to experience the characteristics of the sound and gesture of each letter and the differences between vowels and consonants. They learn in such a way that a deep understanding for language develops. The reading sequence begins with speech, for which the crucial foundation is laid in the Kindergarten, and moves through writing, towards reading.
In writing, the formation of straight lines and curves, that fine-motor skill necessary for writing, is practised.
In speech, the emphasis is on forming, shaping, and creating, including other languages than the child’s mother tongue, as well as singing, playing a recorder, drama, painting, gymnastics, and Eurythmy, which all have a great deal to do with one’s relationship to language as a whole.
Along with writing and reading, the teacher both tells and reads stories. The stories are chosen to help the developing child. The child can experience a sense of wonder in the descriptive pictures brought in stories handed down throughout human history. Children are helped in this way to value the deep treasures of oral and written literature.
In the primary school one journeys from fairy- and folk tales to nature stories; to stories of the Old Testament; to fables, myths, and legends of different cultures; to stories of the development of agriculture, architecture, cities, explorations, and discoveries; and to the biographies of women and men. It is a journey that enables the children to connect to and understand our own land with its peoples, traditions, language, and aspirations, as well as other lands and other peoples.
Te Reo Maori
The indications for Te Reo Maori in the curriculum have been separated from indications for other languages, although the same approach is followed in which the focus is on the development of strong oral skills before any written work is done. Because Te Reo Maori has its special role as the language of this land and the tangata whenua, the way in which it is incorporated into the curriculum must involve meetings with the local people and appropriate instruction in tikanga Maori and marae protocol. While Te Reo is taught in specialist lesson, it is also expected to be part of everyday classroom communication, in each class.
Mathematics and Science
Recognising the natural sense of rhythm and beat in movement, children learn tables rhythmically before waking to the mental gymnastics of math problems. Analysis and synthesis come through working from the whole to the parts: learning to divide, to multiply, to subtract, to add, and to understand recombination of the parts of the whole. In problem-solving, problems are chosen that arise in an imaginative yet practical context. Mathematics teaching and learning corresponds to the children’s developmental path. It is a rigorous curriculum which provides most students with a strong foundation to take them into their secondary school years.
The emphasis is on
- the child
- a cultural context of learning; and
- a truly artistic manner in which learning is brought.
A phenomenological approach to science allows the introduction of relevant skills as early as Class 1, when the children will go on many walks to explore the plant and animal life in their immediate neighbourhood. Accurate observation and description skills are deepened in zoology, botany, geography, physics, chemistry, and human biology lessons in the middle and upper primary school. In content these lessons are appropriate to the stage the children are at in their development and understanding. Their purpose is to help the child to achieve a confident standpoint in the world by being able to observe objectively, and make sense of connections and relationships.
Te Ra strives to provide the full complement of specialist subjects including Eurythmy, Handwork, Maori, German, Art, Gardening, Cooking, Woodwork, Bothmer Gymnastics, Choir, and Orchestra. The delivery of the curriculum by the Class Teachers and Specialist Teachers is supported by a Learning Support Teacher and various contracted therapists (e.g. Curative Eurythmist, “Extra Lesson” Teacher, Anthroposophical Nurse) to respond to any possible special needs of the children.
Rudolf Steiner inaugurated Eurythmy (from the Greek, meaning harmonious, beautiful rhythm) as a performing art in 1913. With the founding of the first Waldorf School, Eurythmy, with its pedagogical benefits, became a core subject in Waldorf Schools worldwide. Not only did it show it was of artistic and educational value, but during Steiner’s renewing medical work, Eurythmy also developed its therapeutic qualities.
At Te Ra, children from the kindergarten to Class 7 receive weekly Eurythmy lessons. The movements the children learn are inherent in the human organism and are founded on laws of speech and music, making sound visible.
In an age-appropriate way, listening, coordination, movement in thinking, expression of feeling, and strengthening of will are some of the qualities that are developed in and demanded of the child during a Eurythmy class. The children will have the opportunity both to perform and to watch performances by professional Eurythmists.
In coordination with an Anthroposophical Doctor and Nurse, the school also provides Eurythmy as a therapeutic course where the child works in one-on-one sessions with a trained Curative Eurythmist.
At the time of the founding of the first Waldorf School in Stuttgart, Rudolf Steiner asked Fritz Graf von Bothmer to develop a movement training that met the developmental needs of the Human Being (as described in “The Foundation of Human Experience” and other Anthroposophical literature). Steiner advised Graf von Bothmer to start with a study of Greek gymnastics. Graf von Bothmer became a teacher in the school and Bothmer Gymnastics was an established subject by 1920.
The curriculum begins in Class 3 and continues through to Class 12. It closely follows the specific needs of the various stages of development and is useful to accompany children through transitions from one stage to another, e.g. the shift from childhood to adolescence. A great deal of strengthening work is done before the students experience the increased weight/burden of their physical bodies that corresponds to the maturation of the inner organs in Classes 7 and 8.
Form Drawing develops a strong sense for form, symmetry and balance, and the transformation of geometrical forms. It can help to strengthen a child’s will forces and their ability to seek the completion of what is incomplete. Form Drawing is also immensely helpful in the development of children’s spatial orientation and hand-eye coordination, as well as in mathematics. It is taught by the Class Teacher.
The Journey Continues
What began securely in Kindergarten, where the child comes to feel that the world is good, develops in early primary school as a sense that the world is beautiful. As they mature in readiness for secondary school, the student begins to develop the longing that can be met by the curriculum of the secondary school towards the inner sense that the world is true.
Click here to see the Raphael House School website. Raphael House is located on the Belmont Hill in Lower Hutt